For an election in which cleaning up government is the central issue in the May 8 national polls, there’s a lot of political mud being thrown.
All the political parties claim to be best suited to wipe away the country’s ripe reputation for cronyism, private use of public resources, bribery and state capture. Yet they continue needling each other over ethical lapses rather than focusing on promoting the policies they’d pursue if elected.
Voters are lamenting: Who is going to restore trust in the government? Who is going to clean up government?
Lest we forget: in 1994, president Nelson Mandela decried corruption, conspicuous consumption, greed, self-enrichment, dishonesty, bribery, sexual abuse of women and children, drug trafficking and disrespect for others. Today we would add state capture.
Millions of people will be going to the polls with corruption weighing on their minds, thanks to the string of commissions dealing with graft.
The many commissions under way have brought into sharp focus the absence of standards and values.
Current events in our country show that people are starting to wake up from the slumber of corruption. They are demanding better governance.
We need only look at the scandals that have compromised the integrity of our elected officials to recognise the need for better governance.
Voters are saying we’ve had almost three decades of electing our leaders, and every time we hold elections a few stand out as promising individuals, but almost all of those we elect are just experts in lip service. Nothing in our government changes; the politicians win, but the people never do.
As a result, the sixth administration is going to be taking over with a cloud of previous scandals looming overhead. There is a dramatic and immediate need to return to fundamental ethics.
At the beginning of our democracy there was a sense of decency, an unobstructed view of right and wrong, an instinct about acceptable boundaries.
But, almost without notice, it all has been eroded. Those who warned of the deterioration were heckled and called fanatics and zealots. But just because the messenger is mad, it doesn’t follow that the message is crazy.
Let’s face it - no one is without flaws. But leadership requires sacrifice, the willingness to subordinate one’s own desires and needs for the good of the people one serves.
It is a pity that the stress of living with capricious leaders who lack integrity continues to destroy South Africa’s reputation and civic culture. It also seems to be doing an effective job ravaging the national government and citizens’ trust.
We can continue to lower our expectations and standards, or declare war on corruption. That is why the Moral Regeneration Movement developed the Charter of Election Ethics to help voters to elect ethical, principled and competent candidates.
Through the charter, we ask voters to think beyond campaign promises and to focus on the bigger picture.
After 25 years of democracy, voting patterns no longer follow rigid ethnic or racial lines. The political landscape has changed and remained the same.
What has changed?
* The vote is no longer a means to remove an oppressive apartheid regime; it has broader proportions.
* More political parties are contesting the election.
* A substantial cohort of young voters has emerged.
* The number of voters has increased to over 26 million.
In contrast, certain realities have remained the same, or have only changed at a snail’s pace.
* Gap between the rich and poor;
* Disparity in terms of service delivery between the dominant social classes and the underclass;
* Differences in the provision of quality education between the wealthy and poor communities;
* Unemployment, especially among young people.
Most of these factors have a huge influence on the decisions of voters.
So, how are we going to arrest the ethical decline of the government while restoring citizens’ trust in elected leaders? Through training to encourage ethical behaviour.
Leadership development should include an ethical construct that promotes purpose-driven leaders.
Successful, ethical leadership is based on deep honesty, courage, moral vision, compassion and care, fairness and deep selflessness.
Popularity cannot be the main criterion for electing a candidate. As George Orwell said: “A people that elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves and traitors are not victims, but accomplices.”
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.